New picture books by Molly Idle and William Joyce; a middle grade superhero tale by James Patterson; a picture book biography about New Orleans musician, Trombone Shorty; and more. Check out the latest sneak peek of reviews appearing in the next print issue, and subscribe to SLJ today to get all of our reviews every month!
Idle, Molly. Sea Rex. illus. by Molly Idle. 40p. Viking. May 2015. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780670785742. LC 2014028637.
PreS-Gr 1–A high-spirited gang of dinosaurs, first seen in Tea Rex (2013) and Camp Rex (2014, both Viking), accompany their elegant friend Cordelia, her brother, and his ever-present teddy bear to the beach in this new adventure. In concise instructions, the proper young girl offers advice on how to best enjoy a “carefree day of fun in the sun.” She recommends sitting near a lifeguard, using plenty of sunscreen, and waiting to go into the water after eating the picnic lunch. In addition to catching the waves, searching for treasures on shore is also an ideal way to spend the afternoon. “Even the smallest shell can contain the ocean’s mighty roar.” As the sun sinks below the horizon, the most important thing to keep in mind is “When you’re surrounded by friends… life’s a day at the beach.” Beginning and ending with clever endpapers, the colored-pencil illustrations jauntily chronicle the memorable day at the seaside. Each precisely drawn picture captures a key moment in the dinosaurs’ fun-filled day. On one spread, the T-rex gleefully rides the waves and a few pages later looks on in surprise as a flock of bold sea gulls flies off with the picnic basket. VERDICT Beach lovers will bask in the warmth of this witty homage to summertime.
Joyce, William. Billy’s Booger: A Memoir (Sorta). illus. by William Joyce. 40p. ebook available. S. & S./Atheneum. Jun. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442473515; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781442473522. LC 2014034955.
Gr 1-4–In this most unusual picture book/memoir mash-up, Joyce describes a moment during his childhood that kicked off his writing and drawing career. Billy (aka Joyce) is an outside-the-box thinker whose attempts to make math, spelling, and PE more fun often land him in hot water, leading the school principal to dub Billy “one of my most challenging students ever.” When the librarian announces a writing competition, Billy knows that his book, a quirky tale of a booger with superpowers, is a sure winner. However, “Billy’s Booger” goes unnoticed at the contest, and Billy is dejected—until his classmates come across it and are bowled over by the boy’s talent. Rendered in mixed media, Joyce’s rich painterly spreads vividly convey small-town 1960s America (details such as Billy’s mother’s beehive hairdo are a nice touch). Joyce also visually emphasizes his own inability to fully conform with his more conventional community: Billy’s fantastic imagination shows him taking out an impossibly huge stack of books from the library in order to derive inspiration for his story, while “Billy’s Booger,” tipped in to the center of the book and illustrated with childlike scrawls and bursting with zaniness, contrasts effectively with the cloyingly cute contest winners “The Super Cute Kitty of Haha Land” and “Save the World with Puppys.” The text is effective, though a bit purposeful, driving home the message that there’s nothing wrong with being different. VERDICT An inventive offering, ideal as a jumping-off point for lesson plans or programs about writing or storytelling. School Library Journal
Hubbard, Kirsten. Watch the Sky. 272p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484708330.
Gr 4-6–Jory’s family has secrets. Not exciting we’re-wizards-or-superheroes secrets, but ominous something-bad-is-coming secrets. “Signs are everywhere,” says his stepfather Caleb. But signs of what? Twelve-year-old Jory and his younger siblings aren’t given an explanation. Caleb’s paranoia isolates the family through grueling preparations for a catastrophic event just as a new friend and a caring teacher open up Jory’s world. He learns to think for himself and begins to question the well-intentioned secrets that have dominated his family’s life. Caleb’s tightening grip is on a collision course with Jory’s expanding views and reaches a crisis in an emotionally charged standoff at the novel’s climax. Which man, Jory or Caleb, knows what is best for the family? Strong characters drive the carefully crafted novel and readers feel and understand their conflicts. Caleb is no villain but a sympathetic, tragic figure, misguided but sincere in the desire to keep his family safe. It’s clear why Jory’s mother, loving but fragile, married him. Sister Kit, an enigma to everyone but her brother, embodies the novel’s otherworldly feel. Readers can’t help but root for Jory as he warily lets his guard down, discovering the simple joys of friendship and that the outside world isn’t something to be feared. Hubbard’s sparse, elegant prose captures the rural landscape’s desolate beauty as well as its dangers and palpably expresses the family’s escalating tensions. VERDICT Unanswered questions will intrigue readers in this atmospheric, ultimately hopeful novel.
Patterson, James & Chris Tebbetts. Public School Superhero. 304p. ebook available. Little, Brown. 2015. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781478953852.
Gr 4-6–By day, Kenny Wright is an average middle school kid, living in Washington, DC. But he has three things against him: he loves his grandmother, earning him the nickname “Grandma’s Boy;” he’s smart, because Grandma makes him study; and he has an affinity for chess. These facts could make life rough for any kid, but at inner-city Union Middle School, it makes him a prime target for bullying. Enter his alter-ego, Stainlezz Steel, a superhero who performs feats of valor from thwarting a robbery by ruthless thugs to rescuing cats, generally keeping the city streets and his school safe for the weak and nerdy. Union Middle School faces some tough situations as well: budget cuts, teacher and principal turnover, and low-performing students. Trying to stay out of trouble seems to get Kenny in deeper and his new principal isn’t having any of it. Can Stainlezz Steel save the day or will Kenny find a way to save it on his own? Packed with fast-paced, tween-speak, Public School Superhero will entertain and enlighten. Kenny is relatable and his relationship with his grandmother is touching. Kenny is African American and his classmates include kids from a rich and realistic diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds, adding to the overall appeal of this novel. Readers will also enjoy the multiple pages of funny, comic book–style illustrations packed with superhero stunts and preteen angst. VERDICT Definitely buy this one.
White, Tara. Where I Belong. 112p. Orca. 2015. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781896580777.
Gr 6-10–White’s novel takes readers to the Oka Crisis in the 1990s in Canada, where learning who you are may prove to be lifesaving. Growing up adopted does not mean much to Carrie. Her looks alone make her stand out and feel different. Aside from her appearance, the biggest difference she feels is the occurrence of powerful dreams. After she meets a boy from her dreams, she starts to truly question where she came from. Through him, Carrie finds a whole other world where she may finally feel like she belongs. As protests occur on the reservation, Carrie’s dreams and her loyalties are tested. White tackles issues of adoption, carefully constructing Carrie’s conflicting feelings about living in a Native world and what it means to be a part of it. White shares traditions and teachings without glamorizing Native culture. Ultimately, Carrie must learn to exist in both worlds. VERDICT A welcome addition to any library, featuring a strong Native protagonist to whom most teens will easily relate.
Charaipotra, Sona & Dhonielle Clayton. Tiny Pretty Things. 448p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062342393.
Gr 9 Up–In the competitive and cutthroat world of pre-professional ballet, three young women are putting their hearts and souls on the line to be the prima ballerina at the American Ballet Conservatory (ABC) where they live, study, and dance. The book is narrated by Gigi, June, and Bette in alternating chapters, each of whom has something to hide that could ruin their chances at landing the perfect roles at ABC this school year. California girl Gigi is new to ABC and is hiding a serious heart defect that could end her dreams before they are even realized. June’s mother has continually threatened her daughter with the prospect of forcing her back into regular school. But June will stop at nothing to move beyond being an understudy and to find out her father’s identity. Bette, previously the best dancer at the school, is now being outshone by Gigi. Will Bette go back to her bad girl behavior and force another student to leave under suspicious circumstances, like she did to a former star? All of the protagonists are playing with fire, and they certainly can’t trust anyone. In this guilty pleasure read, teens will be glued to their seats until the heartbreaking, cliff-hanger conclusion, which promises more to come in this drama-filled world of ballet, boys, and bad girl antics. References to sex, drugs, and alcohol are peppered throughout. Diversity is organically spotlighted here; many different races and body types are represented. VERDICT A fun and fast read that will appeal to fans of “Pretty Little Liars” and “Gossip Girl.”
Keplinger, Kody. Lying Out Loud. 304p. Scholastic. Apr. 2015. ebook available. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545831093.
Gr 9 Up–Set at Hamilton High like Keplinger’s previous works, this novel features Sonny Ardmore, a habitual liar who makes up outrageous stories to cover for her dismal family situation. Her father is in prison, and her mother is never around. Sonny and Amy Rush—younger sister of Wes from The Duff (Little, Brown, 2010)—are close friends, and Sonny even moves unofficially into Amy’s house. When arrogant prep-school new boy Ryder gets a crush on Amy and emails her asking for a date, Sonny inadvertently strings him along online, typing outrageous responses while pretending to be Amy. Eventually Sonny begins to talk about serious concerns with Ryder and realizes that she actually likes him. The protagonist, who is accustomed to lying her way out of everything, concocts a ridiculous plot in which sweet-natured Amy pretends to be completely irrational, thereby smoothing the way for Ryder to fall for Sonny instead. Unsurprisingly, the teen’s deceptions catch up with her. Sonny is a realistic and very human character, and even though she is a liar, her motivations are all too believable. One of the strong points of the book is the emphasis on female friendship; Sonny’s relationship with Amy is just as, if not more, important than her budding romance with Ryder. This will appeal to readers who enjoyed Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key (Viking, 2008) and are on the lookout for titles with a feminist bent. VERDICT A must-purchase for libraries where Keplinger’s other titles have been popular.
Andrews, Troy. Trombone Shorty. illus. by Bryan Collier. 40p. photos. Abrams. Apr. 2015. RTE $17.95. ISBN 9781419714658. LC 2014016106.
Gr 1-4–“Where y’at?” Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, opens his book with this phrase, letting readers know that it’s New Orleans parlance for hello. In this stunning picture book autobiography, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Andrews shares the story of his early years growing up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Andrews desperately wished to emulate the musicians in his family and those he saw performing all over his city, so he and his friends made their own instruments out of found materials, played in the streets, and marched with bands. When one day he found a battered, discarded trombone bigger than he was, Andrews finally had a real instrument to play, and he practiced day and night, acquiring the nickname Trombone Shorty from his older brother. The moment Bo Diddley pulled Andrews on stage to play with him during the New Orleans jazz festival was a turning point, and he hasn’t stopped performing since. Collier’s beautiful watercolor, pen-and-ink, and collage artwork picks up the rhythm and pace of Andrew’s storytelling, creating an accompaniment full of motion and color. Each spread offers a visual panoply of texture, perspective, and angles, highlighting the people and the instruments. Andrews’s career is still on the rise, his music gaining an ever wider audience, and this title will be an inspiration to many. VERDICT Coupled with a selection of Trombone Shorty’s music, this work will make for fun and thoughtful story sharing. A must-have.
Bausum, Ann. Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights. 128p. bibliog. ebook available. index. notes. photos. reprods. Viking. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670016792.
Gr 9 Up–This powerful, well-researched work examines the Stonewall riots, which took place in 1969 in New York City when members of the gay community fought back in response to a police raid on a gay bar. Bausum describes the restrictive lives that many gays and lesbians led in the 1960s and the relief—and risks—of meeting at gay bars. On June 28, 1969, when police arrived at the Stonewall Inn to make arrests, people—transvestites, drag queens, lesbians, and gay men—fought back, instead of filing quietly into police wagons. Quoting from a variety of firsthand sources (journalists, bar patrons, cops, and others), Bausum paints a vivid picture of the three nights of rioting that became the focal point for activists, some of whom had been fighting for gay and lesbian rights in a quieter way and others who found themselves suddenly drawn to the struggle. A month later, a large group of protestors rallied to speak out in Washington Square Park and marched down Christopher Street to the Stonewall Inn in what became the nation’s first gay pride march. In the following chapters, Bausum describes the growth of gay and lesbian activism, setbacks, the impact of HIV/AIDS, and issues such as gays in the military and same-sex marriage, bringing readers to the present day and expertly putting these struggles into historical context. VERDICT An essential purchase.
Jenkins, Steve & Robin Page. Egg: Nature’s Perfect Package. illus. by Steve Jenkins. 32p. diag. further reading. Houghton Harcourt. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780547959092.
Gr 2-4–Jenkins and Page present a collection of facts about animals and their eggs. The layout is divided into spreads that present a different topic (“Where should I lay my eggs?” “Egg Packaging”) in an introductory paragraph. That’s followed by several examples (“Incubation” describes the male emperor penguin, which keeps eggs warm in a brood pouch), accompanied by beautiful illustrations rendered in Jenkins’s trademark cut-and-torn paper collages, scattered across the page, leaving the copious amount of white space characteristic of this team’s style. Some cases tend toward the grotesque (readers learn that the spider wasp stings a spider, lays her eggs on its body, and leaves it as food for her hatchlings), but all are presented in a purely scientific, factual tone. A diagram at the beginning of the book gives readers a look at the actual sizes of different eggs (a tarantula’s, a leopard frog’s, a scorpion fish’s). The work concludes with cross-sectional diagrams of chicken and alligator eggs, showing the interior at different stages of development. There’s also a list of very brief facts about each of the animals pictured. VERDICT Like Jenkins and Page’s other works, this delightful purchase combines big, bold illustrations with intriguing science. A solid addition to the 590s.
Spiegelman, Nadja. Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. ISBN 9781935179818.
––––. Perdidos en NYC: una aventura en el metro. tr. by Lola Moral. Spanish ed. ISBN 9781935179856.
ea vol: illus. by Sergio Garcia Sanchez. 52p. TOON Graphic. Apr. 2015. Tr. $16.95.
Gr 4-7–New York City’s quintessential sights and sounds and hustle and bustle are beautifully captured in this exciting graphic novel. Lost in NYC unfolds via multiple adventures. First, there’s Pablo, the new kid in school. His smart and resourceful classmate Alicia offers to be his partner on the class field trip to the Empire State Building. The students will be taking the subway there, so before setting off, Mr. Bartle dives into an engrossing history lesson about the Empire State Building and the construction of New York City’s subway system. Spiegelman and García Sánchez’s set the narrative tone and demonstrate artistic mastery in an opening spread that uses a 3-D-like cartoon effect to illustrate Mr. Bartle and his students sitting atop and inside a map of Manhattan, “dissecting” and going “underground” to explore the subway system beneath. Seamlessly woven into the illustration and text are historical photographs that depict how tunnels and trenches were constructed to build the subway system. The storytelling is kinetic. The text moves along visual lines, following subway platforms that both ascend and descend. This technique is paired with illustrations that evoke the sensations of walking Manhattan’s densely crowded and diverse streets. Readers see the stacks of yellow cabs, the buskers singing, the skyscrapers carving corridors of blue sky, and even some famous tags by New York’s finest graffiti artists. This a love song to the the city that never sleeps as well as a solid friendship story. Paired with robust, detailed historical notes and an engaging Spanish translation by Moral, this book is sure to be a hit with kids and their adults. VERDICT Recommended for all collections.